Column: The reaction to Gary Barlow’s tax evasion speaks volumes

Last week there was a documentary aired on the BBC entitled ‘When Corden met Barlow.’ As the name suggests, it featured James Corden vigorously rubbing his nose into the rear of Gary Barlow for a full and nauseating hour.

The sycophantic smog of this programme was not helped by the fact that Corden looks like the kind of tragic Gary Barlow tribute act you’d find crooning in a West Midlands bingo hall. The concluding message was essentially, Gary Barlow – what a swell guy. Social media concluded that he was indeed a bloody swell guy, but not in the physical sense anymore at least because he’s lost a lot of weight. Corden even suggested, without irony, that this made him even more swell and so the Barlow love-in went on.

However within a matter of days Barlow was embroiled in a tax-avoidance scandal. It transpired that he, along with fellow bandmates Howard and the one that isn’t Robbie Williams, sheltered around £63 million from the taxman using what is known as an ‘Icebreaker scheme’. Yeah, Take That public services.

To be fair it really is a great ice breaker. In the sense that people will really want to talk to a man who has hoarded millions from the treasury. They’ll say things like ‘My Nan doesn’t have a bed in her local hospital you fapshaft’ and ‘my daughter’s school can’t afford books – also your music is shit.’

The response to this story has been fascinating. Admittedly there is a specific demographic of Take That fans (AKA my Mum) who are fully behind Gary Barlow and his quest to deny children educational equipment and NHS hospitals beds. This is odd, but she really does love Gary Barlow so I guess she’s kind of harmless.

But surely we can rely on the political elite to unite in deploring this crime? Surely we can expect him to pay back these stolen millions? Of course not, this is British politics. It isn’t fuelled by morality, fairness and principal but by vested interests, money and shameless hypocrisy, which happens to be the Cameron family motto.

The PM, like a pleb in rusty armour, valiantly defended Barlow suggesting that he keep his OBE. I agree, on the grounds that it becomes an acronym for ‘Offshore Banking Expert’. Cameron then bizarrely stated that “very aggressive tax avoidance schemes” are bad. What on earth constitutes ‘aggressive’ tax-avoidance? Bludgeoning the taxman before locking yourself in a shed with your fingers in your ears? I much prefer those placid, calm, tax avoidance schemes that tickle your back pocket before giving you a wink and sneaking off to Jersey for the weekend.

This dribbling and confused response by Cameron is only made weirder by the fact he openly deplored Jimmy Carr for the same offence. Why? Because he doesn’t happen to donate to his party. The cronyism within Cameron’s club is no better encapsulated than by this farce. It appears that if you, like Barlow, provide a steady stream of cash to his party he’ll not only turn a blind eye, but publicly defend you. He is nothing more than a political prostitute with his legs spread for the country’s wealthiest – a sopping squib for hire.

Furthermore, the tabloid media’s response has been equally revealing. It speaks volumes that the vitriolic, and quite frankly poisonous, attack on the welfare state was not emulated with regards to Barlow and his bandmates. Benefit errors cost £1 million a day, are you angry? Yes? Well tax-avoidance and evasion costs £260 million a day. Not that you would be led to think so by flicking through the morning’s papers.

These newspapers appeal to our most base and primitive feelings and they do a very good job of it. They evoke the typical response of ‘I’m a hardworking, honest, person and I pay my taxes, so why should (insert extreme minority case) get something for nothing?’ The crucial part of that sentence does not regard people getting ‘something for nothing’, but the fact that you pay your taxes; something that we should all do in a fair and hierarchical tax system. If you’re angry at ‘White Dee’ from ‘Benefits Street’ then by statistical logic you should be far angrier at Barlow and other tax-dodging millionaires.

Instead the tabloids, and the political right more generally, are content with watching large swathes of society squabble and seethe over what is essentially an irrelevant sum. It lets the bankers and the politicians off the hook. Consider the redtops like you would the red cloth in a bullfighter’s hands, distracting and antagonising the public, while the establishment sneak out of the ring unscathed.

In essence, the reaction to the Gary Barlow story is testament to the power that media outlets still hold in this country. Outside of The Guardian’s comments section the general reaction has been one of moderate indifference and apathy. I suspect the same won’t apply to the second series of Benefits Street, however.

Gareth Evans

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